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The outdoor sports market in China keeps growing after Covid

By the end of 2021, more than 400 million people participated in outdoor sports nationwide. After Covid, more and more Chinese people showed interest in outdoor activities including camping, cycling, and ultimate frisbee. According to a survey report from Nanjing Metropolis Daily in 2022 (N=1,033), 69.32% of the respondents participated in outdoor sports at least once a week, and more than 50% of respondents said they participated in more outdoor activities this year.

Who are Chinese outdoor sports enthusiasts?

Women make up the majority of outdoor sports lovers by a margin of 66%. They are not only interested in new recreational activities such as camping and paddling, but also in some competitive sports such as ultimate frisbee, flag football, and baseball. However, in more rugged outdoor sports like mountaineering, the proportion of men is higher.

outdoor sports in China by gender and city tier
Graph source: Mafengwo, designed by Daxue consulting, Gender and geographical distribution of outdoor sports lovers in China in 2022

Outdoor sports events are especially popular in first-tier cities and new first-tier cities. However, the growth momentum in second-tier, third-tier and fourth-tier cities is obvious in recent years, accounting for 35% of the total outdoor sports lovers. Therefore, outdoor sports have lately become a leisure choice for more and more people, growing into a real national activity in China.

Millennials and Gen Z are the driving force for the outdoor sports market in China

According to the data from Mafengwo, Millennials and Gen Z led the trend of outdoor sports, accounting for 85.6% of the total outdoor sports lovers in 2022. After Covid, the emphasis on a healthy lifestyle has made “walking with children outdoors” a new trend among young Millennials parents. For the Gen Z, outdoor sports have even become a lifestyle, symbolizing youth and vitality. The 2022 survey on young Chinese people’s recreational activities by 36Kr showed that two outdoors sports were included within the top three young people’s favorite activities: camping and skiing. The 51.92% of the surveyees were Gen Z, while 34.96% of them were born after the 90s.

Outdoor sports are blooming in China

The rise of the camping market

After the pandemic, camping has imposed as a key leisure trend for people, especially citizens. Camping can meet people’s needs for short trips and pleasant nature experience, as well as reduce the risk of being infected, so it has become the first choice of Chinese consumers on weekends and holidays. Data from iiMedia Research shows that the market size of China’s camping economy is growing tremendously, reaching 74.75 billion RMB in 2021, with a year-on-year growth of 62.5%. Compared with traditional camping, today’s popular camping activities are a combination of aesthetics, comfort, and entertainment. Consumer demand for camping equipment is also diversifying, including sleeping bags, tent lights, and mats.

glamping in china
Source: XHS, Chinese consumers love glamping

Cycling is synonym for a healthy and green lifestyle

Due to the repeated outbreaks of Covid, domestic consumers have become more interested in outdoor activities, especially in urban areas. According to the National Sports Health Trend Report, with the continuous improvement of people’s living standards, the public’s health awareness has also greatly increased. People are placing more importance on physical health than wealth and job satisfaction. As a result, cycling has become one of the most attractive outdoor activity choices, as well as an expression of a healthy lifestyle for citizens. During the “618” shopping festival in 2022, the transaction volume of bicycle parts and accessories on Jingdong platform increased by 100% year-on-year.

Moreover, the concept of green consumption boosted the development of the cycling industry. As climate change and sustainable development continue to attract global attention, more and more consumers are aware of the impact of consumption on the environment and take sustainability more in consideration than in the past. Cycling can greatly help reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Nowadays, many countries are already making significant investments in a cleaner future, building bike infrastructure, and opening up streets to cyclists, further encouraging people to switch to cycling. For example, Beijing officially published its slow travel plan (2020-2035), proposing to build a bicycle-friendly city by 2035.

Ultimate frisbee is taking off in China

Ultimate frisbee, because of its sports, social and fashion attributes, has become a new favorite among young people in China. According to statistics from the National Frisbee Sports Promotion Committee, from July 2021 to June 2022, nearly 100 new Frisbee brands have emerged. In April 2022, the Ministry of Education issued the “Curriculum Standards of Physical Education,” and ultimate frisbee was officially included as a new sport. Compared to other sports such as diving and rock climbing, ultimate frisbee is more social, less expensive, and safer, so it got very popular on social platforms. After the pandemic, it attracted even more young people’s attention. As of January 30th, 2023, there were more than 626 thousand notes related to ultimate frisbee on Xiaohongshu, many of which were posted by famous KOLs like Ou-yang Nana and Li Xian.

outdoor sports in China get popular on XHS
Source: XHS, many celebrities joined ultimate frisbee game on social media

The success of winter sports following Beijing 2022 paved the way for outdoor sports

Chinese winter sports industry is one of the fastest growing in the world, with a market size expected to reach 1 trillion RMB by 2025. Many domestic winter sports brands have risen and many foreign winter sports brands entered the market. Those sports brands have brought positive influence on the outdoor sports market in China, creating better products and services for consumers.

For example, Anta hosted a camping festival teaming up with BYD in summer 2022. The camping event was held in the mountains and with the support of professional equipment such as Anta clothing and BYD cars. Participants could play different sports such as ultimate frisbee, running and jump shooting, while also picking fruits and vegetables and barbecuing under the stars.

anta camping festival in collaboration with BYD in 2022
Source: Weibo, Anta hosted a camping festival in collaboration with BYD in 2022

The outdoor sports fever boosted sales of related products like sunscreen and shoes

The rise of outdoor activities in China had some consequences in other industries. As the search for outdoor sports products is on the rise, sunscreen products are also gaining traction. Since July 2022, sales of sunscreen products have nearly tripled year-on-year, with sunscreen masks up 668%, sunscreen hats increasing by 369% and sun protection clothing rose by 300%. The popularity of outdoor sports also fostered the growth of hiking shoes, basketball shoes, tennis shoes, running shoes and other similar products. According to Magic Mirror data, in the first half of 2022, the total size of online sports shoes exceeded 4.4 billion, recording a 17.4% year-on-year increase.

What we can learn about the outdoor sports market in China

  • China’s outdoor sports market is growing fast after Covid. Millennials and Gen Z from first-tier and new first-tier cities are the main outdoor sports enthusiasts.
  • Several outdoor sports are blooming, including camping, cycling, and ultimate frisbee. They meet the mental needs of Chinese consumers and boast good prospects for development in the future.
  • The rise of outdoor activities has fostered the sales of other products including clothes, shoes, and sunscreen.

Author: Lyu Ai

Read about China’s youth sports market